Gloria by Robert Hanson
The genesis for the “Gloria project” goes back to 1977 when Jeordano Martínez and Robert Hanson shared an office. Both were conductors at Elgin Community College and developed a strong friendship and mutual admiration which continues today. In the spring of 2002, the Naperville Chorus performed Hanson’s 1985 composition, The Psalms of David. David Lewis, a current member of the chorus, sang in the spring of 2002 performance, enjoyed the work, and told his wife how much he enjoyed the work.
In the summer of 2002, Michele Lewis called Robert Hanson to inquire about a commission in honor of David’s birthday. She and Hanson agreed upon a 4-5 minute work for chorus and orchestra written on text to be mutually agreed upon between Hanson and Martínez. Once the text was chosen, the Lewises contributed funds to the Naperville Chorus which, in turn, offered the commission to Hanson.
The Gloria in excelsis text–a part of the Roman Catholic mass sung almost every week of the church year–has been a favorite text for composers since the beginnings of written music in the year 1000 and probably much longer. Famous settings of the Gloria have been set by Vivaldi, Poulenc, Puccini, Rutter and many other composers. Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and many other composers set the Gloria as a movement within the composition of the complete mass. The text begins with Luke 2:14, the song the angels sing at the birth of Christ. The author of the rest of the text is unknown although versions of the complete text date back to the 7th century. For this commission, Hanson chose only the first two lines of the Gloria text: Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus which translates as “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to mankind.”
Hanson’s Gloria is scored for SSAATTBB chorus, soprano solo, and orchestra consisting of pairs of winds, pairs of horns, trumpets, and trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings. The work opens quietly with flutes and strings with the “angels” entering gradually beginning with the soprano solo and eventually using the full chorus singing “Glory to God in the highest.”
The work is written in three sections using ABA form. After the opening “Glory to God” (the A section) comes “and peace on earth, goodwill . . . .” which constitutes the B section. This sections is–predictably–quieter and slightly slower to create a peaceful and calming contrast to the exhuberance of the “Gloria” section.
The third section returns to the opening “Gloria” thematic material in a slightly different order than presented in the beginning. Some of the purely choral and purely orchestral from the opening are in this section scored for the opposing choral or orchestral choir.
The Gloria in excelsis is written using a minimum of thematic material. Principal themes are stated right off with the cascading eighth notes in the instrumental opening. Singers enter using a new motive, eventually taking up the instrumental motive. Key changes are aplenty–often occuring every bar–especially in the B or middle section of the work. Even the “new” motive presented for et in terra pax is derived from the instrumental opening and performed in dotted quarters rather than the eighth notes in the instrumental opening. At the end of the B section, both the dotted quarter note augmentation and the eighth note original are played together. The composer has plans to expand this work to a multi-movement work using the complete text of the Gloria.
Robert Hanson Nov. 2003